As HP looks to set back into M&A market, who’s on its short-list?

Contact: Brenon Daly

Now that Hewlett-Packard is once again growing organically, we’re hearing that the tech giant is looking to grow inorganically once again, too. Several market sources have indicated in recent days that HP has pursued a large network platform play, as well as a smaller round-out for its application security portfolio.

Before we look at the specifics of each rumor, it’s worth noting the fact that any acquisition would be a dramatic reversal from the company’s recent stance. Since its disastrous purchase of Autonomy in mid-2011, HP has stepped almost entirely out of the M&A market, announcing just a pair of small transactions. For comparison, IBM has inked more than 30 deals in the same three-year period, according to The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase.

So who is HP supposedly eyeing? Well, both Blue Coat Systems and WhiteHat Security would bring a dash of color to the company.

Of the two rumored deals, we think the larger one – Blue Coat – is less likely, if just because a more measured return to dealmaking after a three-year hiatus would probably play better among investors, who have bid HP shares up to a three-year high. Blue Coat, with its diverse networking and security product portfolio and headcount of more than 1,400, would also pose a number of integration challenges to a company that is still working through the last big transaction it did. Furthermore, it would likely cost HP more than $2bn.

More reasonably, WhiteHat would likely cost HP only about one-tenth that amount and would be a relatively low-risk expansion to the company’s existing portfolio by bolstering its security services. HP already offers application security, a portfolio built primarily via M&A. HP acquired Web app testing startup SPI Dynamics in June 2007, and then added Fortify Software in August 2010. Fortify, which had a relatively strong partnership with WhiteHat before its sale, stands as one of the few recent deals that HP has done that has actually generated the hoped-for returns.